Quinton de Kock's Clever Deception Illegal?

de Kock deceived Zaman, but not illegaly.

Law 41.5 says “it is unfair for any fielder willfully to attempt, by word or action, to distract, deceive or obstruct either batsman after the striker has received the ball.”

The South African wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock appeared to continue to signal to the fielder in the outfield to throw at the bowler’s end after the fielder had already thrown the ball to the keeper’s end. Zaman appeared to see de Kock’s signal and not only dawdled on his second run, but then belatedly turned (blind) to look at the action at the bowler’s end. Meanwhile, the throw was a freak direct hit at the striker’s end. Zaman was run out for record breaking 193 - the highest score in an ODI run chase to date.

The umpires ruled it out. They did not invoke Law 41.5. One possibility is that umpires simply missed this. But this is unlikely. Umpires watch the action carefully - far more carefully than either the commentators or you and me. They don’t miss much. The umpires also don’t make arbitrary decisions. They operate by precedent. The MCC tweeted the law, saying that “[i]t’s up to the umpires do decide”.

So perhaps its worth trying to see why they might have decided that this was not illegal deception. I did not watch the first 96 overs of this game. I happened to see the score pop up on my phone and decided to watch the last 4.

The so-called “fake fielding” law was introduced in 2017. As Fraser Stewart (the MCC’s Laws of Cricket manager) explained,

“The reason for the introduction of this law was that fielders were deliberately pretending to have the ball as a means of fooling the batsmen, thereby preventing them from taking further runs.”

Here’s an example of fake-fielding which occurred before the law was introduced.

On this example, Stewart observed the following:

“The Sangakkara example is less clear-cut. Technically, he is deliberately attempting to deceive the batsman, but I'm not sure what advantage he is gaining - not that the gaining of an advantage needs to be proved. It seems to be done more out of jest than out of an attempt to cause confusion and prevent a run being scored. Under the letter of the Law, one could not argue with the penalty being imposed. Equally, however, an umpire might choose to handle it by having a quiet word and informing him of the new law. As with any law like this, it is always going to be for the umpires to decide what is "deliberate" and what is "deception".”

In the 2019 Ashes, Jonny Bairstow did pretty much exactly what Sangakkara did in the example above. The umpires did not penalize England five runs. So Stewart’s point about the fielder trying to gain an advantage holds.

This action by the cover fielder was penalized by the umpires under 41.5. As you can see, the fielder’s fake throw actually caused the batsman to turn around. But the batsman kept his eyes on the ball and eventually completed the run. Here, there is instance in which the fielder pretended to throw the ball even though he had not collected it.

Is de Kock’s action analogous to that of Bairstow? Or is it analogous to that of Labuschagne? The umpires (Marais Erasmus was one of them, he was also officiating that Ashes Test in which Bairstow’s incident occurred) thought it was like Bairstow’s since they didn’t call it dead ball and award 5 penalty runs. Instead, they gave it out.

Here’s a video of the de Kock episode.

Let us assume the worst. Let us say that de Kock was pointing to the bowler’s end, and lets assume that this was with the purpose of indicating that there was a play at the bowler’s end. Further, lets assume that de Kock was pointing in the hope that Zaman would slow down further, since he was already dawdling.

Even if this is true, what advantage did de Kock gain?

de Kock did not indicate that a dismissal had been completed at the bowler’s end. If this was the indication, Zaman would be not out under the Law because he would have thought that the ball was dead. The run out law requires that the batsman can be run out “at any time while the ball is in play”. de Kock would have deceived Zaman about the state of play.

Nor did de Kock indicate that the ball was about to hit Zaman, causing Zaman to take evasive action. This would also have disadvantaged Zaman about the state of play, since, as in the Labuschagne case, Zaman would be prevented by de Kock’s misinformation from completing the run.

But simply by pointing to the bowler’s end, de Kock is not preventing Zaman from completing the run even though he’s clearly exploiting the fact that Zaman is not paying attention to the ball. Zaman does not need to turn and look to the bowler’s end because, while the ball is still in play, the action at the bowler’s end has no bearing on whether or not Zaman can make his ground.

Merely pointing at something does not constitute a distraction because it does not disadvantage the batsman. The batsman is neither required nor compelled to look at where the keeper is pointing.

Zaman was run out after the throw to the keeper’s end hit the stumps directly. But he did this because he wasn’t paying attention to the ball. Not because de Kock was pointing to some imaginary action at the bowler’s end.

Was de Kock sly? Yes. Was it a clever deception? Certainly. Was it an illegal deception under Law 41.5? No it was not because it did not gain de Kock any advantage. Sure, Zaman may have been watching the keeper and worrying about his non-striker instead of keeping an eye on the ball, but de Kock’s gesture did not change any material facts about the play. The ball was still in play (de Kock did not indicate otherwise) and Zaman still had to complete his run in time (de Kock did not indicate otherwise).

The difference between the de Kock and Labuschagne cases is that unlike de Kock, Labuschagne was the fielder involved in fielding the ball. There was reason for the batsman to pay attention to his actions. There was no reason for Zaman to pay attention to what de Kock was doing. Essentially, Zaman being distracted by de Kock was equivalent to Zaman being distracted by any other fielder on the pitch who was also not involved in the fielding the ball.

Under what circumstances would de Kock be guilty of a breach of 41.5? After all, the keeper is rarely involved in fielding the ball when the batsmen are crossing for one or more runs (the ball is usually hit into the outfield in such cases). Imagine a case where, instead of merely pointing to the bowler’s end, de Kock were to act as though he were celebrating a run out at the bowlers end, when in fact, the throw was on its way to the keeper’s end. In such an instance, Zaman could plausibly claim that by falsely indicating that there had been a dismissal at the bowler’s end, de Kock had deceived him into thinking that the ball was dead. In such a case, the case for applying 41.5 against de Kock would be significantly (perhaps even decisively) strong.